The rise of the Nanny State: Sri Lanka to filter pornography on the web

It was almost exactly a year ago that I read this report on Techcrunch that said children in Nigeria were accessing porn from the XO Laptop (alias $100 PC). The story noted, tongue in cheek that

It’s heart warming to know that the efforts of the well meaning folks behind the OLPC project are delivering real results on the ground; providing the same opportunities for teenage boys to access internet porn no matter how impoverished they are or where they live. 

It’s equally heart-warming to note the special Presidential directive to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) that websites featuring obscene and pornographic material should be filtered with immediate effect to protect children against internet pornography.

A Sri Lankan President who cares and is a paragon of virtue. Who would have imagined it? 

In 1999, Australia tried to do much the same thing and it resulted in a huge public outcry against the rise of a nanny state. And as I suspect, unlike what will be the usual supine subservience to misplaced Presidential wisdom by Sri Lankan ISPs, Australian ISPs also made the case that it was simply not technically or economically feasible to block “pornographic sites”. Reading through existing net filtering legislation in Australia one notes the chaotic nature of it all and the emphasis on expunging “pornographic” content hosted in Australia as opposed to content offshore, which it does not censor. In August 2007 the Australian Government’s NetAlert programme started to offer free internet filters, online safety guides and other tips for parents, teachers and librarians.  

The Daily News reports that,

If an adult wishes to have unrestricted access to the Internet, service may be obtained from an Internet Service Provider in password protected manner after making a payment. However, the user is responsible for use of the service in responsible manner and should ensure the filtered websites are not accessible to children.

The irony here is in the proposed firewall of “pornographic” content. A password. How original and foolproof is that? As Lirneasia correctly notes

Assumed strict enforcement, this can lead to the ban of not just YouTube but Gmail and Yahoomail also, because pornography videos can easily be distributed via e-mail.

Add all instant messaging applications, P2P file sharing, Google Docs, Box.net and related online file storage services. Apparently though,

This decision was taken as there has been increasing concern about the exposure of children to obscene and pornographic materials via the internet. The proliferation of internet raises serious problems concerning unrestricted access to obscene and pornographic materials, especially by children.

The TRCSL directive goes on to ask ISPs to “filter the websites featuring Obscene/phonographic (sic) /sexually explicit materials”. And here I would have thought that Mervyn Silva’s profanities plastered across the media and the behaviour of his son, Keheliya Rambukwella’s shenanigans at Royal College with his son and – how to politely put it – our mentally challenged Foreign Minister’s notion that it’s perfectly alright to take his children to diplomatic functions conveyed a far more detrimental message, that it is fine for absolute power to corrupt absolutely with complete impunity.

In response to the creative uses it was put to by the children in Abuja, Negroponte’s XO laptop went on to feature a porn filter. 

What we in Sri Lanka desperately need today is a “President Rajapakse epiphanic directive of the day” spam filter to spare us from the ignominy of living under a regime that is increasingly and insufferably Victorian.

11 comments on “The rise of the Nanny State: Sri Lanka to filter pornography on the web

  1. shehal
    August 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm #

    did you try browsing playboy.com or clubjenna.com or something?
    because they are accessible

    iMac:~ x$ curl http://clubjenna.com

    Jenna Jameson – ClubJenna.com – The Official Site Of Adult Superstar Jenna Jameson

    iMac:~ x$ curl http://playboy.com

    Playboy.com – Sexy Women, Hot Girls, Nude Women, Naked Pics, Playmates, Cyber Girls, Centerfolds, Playboy Magazine, Celebrities, Articles

  2. Bincom ICT Solutions
    August 3, 2008 at 4:51 am #

    I think a lot of emphasisis should also be placed on the parents.They are and should be the frontline of defense for the “victims”l

  3. shehal
    August 4, 2008 at 1:53 pm #

    when is this going to be implemented?
    an official statements from the govt?

  4. kasun
    August 5, 2008 at 5:59 pm #

    and what about freenet,gnunet they gonna ban them too,what about rapidshare and alike,this jst can’t be done what kind of utter retards has he got as advisors damn!

  5. JonB
    August 5, 2008 at 6:14 pm #

    😦

  6. Maveen
    August 5, 2008 at 7:21 pm #

    Is this practical

  7. Adam
    September 10, 2008 at 2:01 am #

    this whole thing about porn filtration is not feasible. blocking is implemented in the following order – 1) by name (eg, sex, xxx), 2) by ‘whole’ website name. taking the first two examples, it can be implemented, but catch is, for instance say the word ’sex’ is banned in a word match, if you get a email (yahoo,hotmail,gmail for instance) the page wont load or will with errors as it filters that word, suppose your married, your wife sends you a mail with the word ’sex’ as in ‘I want to buy that sexy dress’, guess what, it gets blocked. 2nd option can also be implemented same way, but we all know these days there are numerous porn sites, its technically impossible to add all those links into a filter file and filter that as number of sites increase by each day. also, larger the filter file in the case of option 1 & 2, slower the web becomes as it has to filter every single word as it passes through the ISP to your pc. thus requiring more and more computing power to implement such a task and we are talking of a massive task here. those of you who do use unix can test it out on your own to come to your own conclusions. the net was designed for one purpose, to share information, it was never designed for tasks such as filtration, which undermines the whole idea of the internet. as far as Limewire, Torrents go, they operate on ports which you open up manually from home, and we have the option of changing those ports at will. if ISPs are to block those, they have to block all ports and leave open just port 80, which is www port. which they cant do as some software like skype automatically selects random ports on each use. if ports are to be blocked, then, software like yahoo,msn,irc too can go offline. but then again, if this stupid gov can implement such a absurd law, then port filtering too is not far too off in the coming future. to give you a idea of the massive scale filtration process for all ISPs in srilanka to do this, one would need one BIG supercomputer, or a few atleast for this to work. and we dont have those here. by getting people to pay for accessing porn is yes, a way the gov is making money off porn, think about it, sex sells in one form or other. but interesting requests lately arnt they. first, to carry a mobile phone certificate with you and present at all check points is a direct violation of your privacy, now comes this. not sure if this is the blog where someone mentioned ‘do ISPs read your emails as well’, hell yeah. but not in person but every data packet goes through their backbone so all u need is someone adapt at reading it and these days u get software for that – Cain & Able, freely downloadable one, can filter anything, or the older but crude is Ethereal, ofcourse Network Admins, dont need any of this, they can read it as it goes through the LAN if you know your TCP/IP inside out. this is why unix is so popular, hard to learn but very very good at decoding anything.your unreadable/unformatable pendrives can be fixed with 3 commands in unix. unix is all about log files, even emails are stored in files, even after you download it to your pc, the transfer is recorded somewhere in the ISP.basic idea is, to every problem there are more than two solutions, and who create problems, we do – humans, and we make mistakes, that is why problems have more than 2 solutions.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Internet Enemies « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - March 14, 2009

    […] that aggresively filter the Internet is not surprising. As I’ve noted before regarding our own dalliance with filtering child pornography, Australia presents a particularly disturbing example to the world in this regard, as the RSF […]

  2. From pornography to censorship? « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - April 3, 2009

    […] 2008, the Government out of the blue demanded measures that somehow needed to be taken by ISPs to ‘…. It was evident that the Executive and the motely crew of yes-men who surround him, including at […]

  3. IGP now wants to “suspend licenses” of porn websites in Sri Lanka « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - July 25, 2009

    […] by Foreign Policy with examples from China and Bahrain. In August 2008, there were news reports of an even wider, more intrusive net filtering regime proposed by the President. A the time, it was reported that the TRC had gone to the extent of […]

  4. Australia and pornography: Google says filtering goes too far « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - March 26, 2010

    […] – some would argue technical impossibility – of censoring such content online. Sri Lanka has also made noises in this regard in 2008, but to date, even twelve sites determined to have pornographic content and blocked by court order […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: